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Illustration: Lazaro Gamio/Axios
The president's contempt for mainstream polling and the media may come back to haunt him in November. Several top Republican operatives working on the midterm elections told me Trump's fanciful "red wave" predictions could depress Republican turnout and, ironically, serve to make any blue wave even bigger.
One of those strategists told me he's detecting something interesting — and concerning — from focus groups of Trump voters.
Between the lines: Questionable outlier polls like Rasmussen that favor the president have lulled and reassured Trump’s base. The president tweets out the polls, his media mouthpieces echo them, and his voters feel pacified — and, several top strategists I've interviewed fear, less motivated to show up in November.
Another of the country's top House operatives told me:
A third said: "They watch Hannity... and hear that a red wave is coming to save the House. They really believe it's going to be 2016 all over again."
The bottom line: Trump is virtually alone among Republican elected officials in predicting a red wave, but his megaphone is the party's loudest. So many strategists wish he'd be more realistic with his voters — many of whom loathe Congress and are already reluctant to vote in an election where Trump isn't on the ticket.
But, but, but: If the Trump base shows up in November, Republicans have a chance at holding the House. Trump has an unprecedented hold over his party's base, so if he changes tack it's possible his voters will, too — and quickly.
Photo: Eric Baradat/AFP/Getty Images
Trump’s staff has learned a hard lesson. If the president says something in private, no matter how geopolitically fraught, it's only a matter of time before he blurts it out in public.
Behind the scenes: A source who's spent hours with Trump in confidential White House settings told me the Journal interview brought back bad memories.
The two examples the source gave:
The bottom line: Trump's aides have learned the hard way that once they hear the president say something privately — no matter how harmful it might be — it's only a matter of time before he blurts it out publicly.
Speaker Paul Ryan is retiring in November. Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images
Dave Wasserman, the Cook Political Report's House analyst, says the most under-covered aspect of 2018 is that "a blue wave is obscuring a red exodus." Republican House members are retiring at a startling clip — a trend that senior White House adviser Kellyanne Conway told me earlier this year was worrying her more than any other trend affecting the midterms.
Why this matters: Just in the past eight months, the number of vulnerable Republican seats has almost doubled, according to Wasserman. Democrats need to win 23 seats to claim control of the House. Today, the Cook Political Report rates 37 Republican-held seats as toss-ups or worse. At the beginning of the year, it was only 20.
The big picture: Wasserman says the most important sign that 2018 will be a "wave" year — with Democrats winning control of the House — is the intensity gap between the two parties. In polls, Democrats consistently rate their interest in voting as significantly higher than Republicans. And Democrats have voted in extraordinary numbers in the special elections held the past year, despite Republicans holding on to win almost all of these races.
Wasserman has a vivid way of describing the most harmful dynamic for Republicans in November. "This election is the year of the angry female college graduate," he said.
The bottom line: "Yes, it's about how upset suburban professional women are, with regard to family separations at the border and Trump's temperament and behavior. But it's also about who's not voting. And that's primarily men without college degrees who are Trump true believers."
John Dean before the Senate Watergate Committee. Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images
President Trump tweeted this morning: "The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel [sic], he must be a John Dean type "RAT." But I allowed him and all others to testify — I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide."
This afternoon, I called up said "RAT," John Dean, to get his take. Dean was Richard Nixon's White House counsel and heavily involved in the Watergate cover-up before he became a key witness for the prosecution.
Dean told me he read the hard copy of The New York Times this morning and enjoyed the "fascinating" story about the White House counsel, Don McGahn, cooperating "extensively" with Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
Why this matters: Per the latest reporting from the NYT's Maggie Haberman and Michael Schmidt, "The president, who is said to be obsessed with the role that John W. Dean, the White House counsel to President Richard M. Nixon, played as an informant during Watergate, was jolted by the notion that he did not know what Mr. McGahn had shared [with Mueller]."
What's next? As Politico first reported, Dean has been talking to Michael Cohen's lawyer, Lanny Davis, who became a friend when they both appeared regularly on cable news during the Bill Clinton impeachment.
"There are some parallels," Dean said. "Nixon made a comment in his memoir, that I found striking. That he wasn't worried about my Watergate testimony, but it was everything else I had to say. Because I had become privy to so many activities... and he said that's what killed him."
Democratic Sen. Jeanne Shaheen's team has sent out three fake spearphishing email campaigns to staffers over the last 18 months to test whether they’d fall for real hacking, her chief of staff, Maura Keefe, tells Axios. The result? Several fell for it.
Why it matters: Every political operation in the country is grappling with the reality that hackers may target them — that is, if they haven’t been infiltrated already.
The context: Keefe's effort is just one indicator of the cybersecurity culture shift starting to happen on the Hill, as Axios' Shannon Vavra and I report:
The impact: Fewer staffers clicked the phishing links with each new campaign, from five or six on the first, to just one. "It works," Keefe said. "It’s become a little bit of a point of pride for the staff to be on top of it."
The big picture: This is about playing catch-up on cybersecurity. "I was not hyper-aware and I don't think many people were" before the 2016 elections about cybersecurity, said Keefe. She added she didn't think Sen. Shaheen's previous campaign even had a line item in the budget for it. "It's definitely been an awakening," she said.
The bottom line: The nature of political operations — from Iowa presidential strivers to the halls of the Senate — is changing. It's no longer just about policy and messaging, but also running cybertraining bootcamps to outsmart adversaries. And politicians can train their teams all they want, but each office is only as secure as its weakest, most distracted, careless clicker.
Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images
Rudy Giuliani went insta-viral this morning when he told "Meet the Press" host Chuck Todd that "truth isn't truth" when it comes to Trump's potential testimony to special counsel Robert Mueller.
Why this matters: The statement from the president’s lawyer — an awkward attempt at saying that Trump and Comey have differing accounts of their meeting — highlights the Trump team's already-yawning credibility gap.
Ironically, in the same interview with Todd, Giuliani made a blatantly and provably false statement about that same Trump Tower meeting:
The bottom line: Literally every part of that Giuliani answer is false. Veselnitskaya has well-documented ties to the Russian government. And here's what Rob Goldstone, the intermediary who arranged the Trump Tower meeting, emailed to the president's eldest son when setting up the meeting:
Don Junior replied: "Thanks Rob I appreciate that. I am on the road at the moment but perhaps I just speak to Emin first. Seems we have some time and if it's what you say I love it especially later in the summer. Could we do a call first thing next week when I am back?"
What's next? When Giuliani's shock-and-awe media blitz first started months ago, many White House staffers were gobsmacked. A few even considered quitting. But, in the months since then, a broad sense of resignation has emerged. Giuliani works for Trump — not for the White House — so only the president can tell him what to do. And when it comes to his bungled media hits, the president seems mostly unbothered.
The House is out on August recess.
The Senate is still at work, and is expected to remain in session throughout August, honoring Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's promise to cut short the summer break to process spending bills and nominations.
Trump's Supreme Court nominee, Judge Brett Kavanaugh, will have his last week of meetings with senators ahead of his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, scheduled to begin on September 4.
President Trump's schedule, per a White House official: